The former senior clerk for the Southold Town Justice Court was charged Friday with stealing $50,000 from bail money posted by defendants and using it for personal expenses, a Suffolk prosecutor said.
Because Christine Stulsky had worked in the town court until she resigned Tuesday, her case was heard instead in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead.
Stulsky, 64, of New Suffolk, pleaded not guilty to second-degree grand larceny, defrauding the government and official misconduct. If convicted, she faces a maximum of 5 to 15 years in prison.
"Over the years, Miss Stulsky began stealing the bail money by not depositing all of it," Assistant District Attorney Melisa Bliss said.
Bliss said Stulsky spent the stolen cash on ordinary purchases, including groceries and cigarettes.
Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson set bail at $10,000 bond, which Stulsky posted immediately. Her attorney, John Strode of Riverhead, said she's never been in trouble with the law before.
Bliss said afterward that the investigation is continuing. In a statement, District Attorney Thomas Spota said a forensic analysis of the court's records found evidence that Stulsky had misappropriated money.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said prosecutors notified the town a few weeks ago about the investigation. Since then, he said the town has begun an independent audit of the court's accounts.
"We will put policies and procedures in place to ensure it doesn't happen again," he said.
An insurance claim will ensure that neither town residents nor defendants who have posted bail will lose money, he said.
Russell said past audits have found some deficiencies, "but no red flags. It appeared this was done in small amounts over a long period of time."
The town board will appoint a replacement for Stulsky, who made $62,703 last year, according to town records.
After the plea, Stulsky hugged her daughters in the courtroom. She declined to comment as she left the courthouse.